It’s expected that new Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards will call the state legislature into session early next year to address the state budget deficit. Whether or not a special first of the year session, along with a regular session of the legislature, can make any difference in what’s become the Louisiana’s status quo should be a serious concern for the states businesses and citizens.
According to a May 30, 2015 Baton Rouge Advocate article, Bobby Jindal’s frequent absences from the state in months preceding the 2015 legislative session should not have precluded lawmakers from working to solve the state’s budget issues – according to state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. “The Legislature has had opportunities of its own to come up with solutions. We’ve known that we had major fiscal problems. Not solving the problem this year is an abdication of our responsibilities,” Carter said.
The only problem most of us would find in Carter’s observation is that it didn’t include recent years when the state’s structural budget deficiencies were consistently kicked down the road year after year. And, here we are again. And once again, with billion dollar plus state budget deficit projections.
In the same Baton Rogue Advocate article, writer Tyler Bridges correctly observed, “Jindal and lawmakers have balanced the budget in name only in recent years by drawing down various reserve accounts, selling state property, tapping legal settlements and approving a tax amnesty program.” He further notes that the budget lawmakers approved in 2014 contained $1.2 billion in one-time money that was not available in 2015. Lawmakers demonstrated similar disastrous budget skills in the 2015 legislative session.
What’s at stake? Once again, it’s woefully inadequate higher education funding that consistently threatens the future of the system. It’s true healthcare funding reform, and a definitive plan to ensure the security of the state’s safety net hospital system and premier medical school. It’s a $14 billion backlog of DOTD projects. It’s how to maintain the TOPS program without draining other funds to do so. The list is long and in desperate need of the cohesive and cooperative attention of our state lawmakers and new Governor.
Unfortunately that group of every-four-year promisers seems to suffer a common shortcoming: the statesmanship that can move Louisiana forward with a minimum of bickering, grandstanding, and annual déjà vu. Statesmanship is defined as “the ability, character or methods of a statesman; skill and vision in managing public affairs.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). If that “skill and vision in managing public affairs” includes seriously addressing Louisiana’s persistent structural budget shortcomings – then to our detriment, we have been seriously short of statesmen in the Louisiana Legislature.
Those of us sitting on the sidelines watch the expected legislative-governor annual shell game that looks like a balanced budget – but as anticipated, simply shifts the growing state fiscal disaster down the road another year. Maybe it takes two legislative sessions in just a few months? Probably not, but hope rings eternal.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org